easy to use and feel nice to hold – but there is freedom in getting outside of the rules. However, I always make a small hole in my pieces as a nod to historic vessels. It’s a connection with tradition that I think shows respect. Without a hole, they become pure sculpture. It’s important to me that my pieces can still be functional.
IS: Apart from geology, what inspires you? SM: Travelling, customs, history and people all inspire me more than art. I find ordinary life more of an inf luence than anything else. I enjoy meeting people when I’m teaching, especially those who don’t have a ceramics background. They find it very easy to break the rules, which brings new ideas and possibilities to working with clay.
IS: What materials do you use? SM: Sometimes I’ve dug clay in the mountains, but it’s harder to do nowadays as much of the land is now fenced off. I found one area with excellent clay, but it’s now under a golf course! I’ve kept a small amount that I dug when I was younger, which I keep for special pieces such as teabowls. Usually I have to buy clay. Japanese clay feels more organic and less plastic than those in other countries; I like how it feels, how it cracks.
There’s a lot of movement in my pieces, so I keep glazes simple. Colour would be too much. One is a natural ash glaze – wood ash covers the piece and melts into a glaze. Another is a white Kohiki glaze, made by using an engobe with a clear glaze on top. Tanka is another option: it’s a way of smoking the pottery with charcoal. I use a silver overglaze sometimes. I like to emphasise contrast, so a matte black tanka piece might have shiny silver areas.
IS: What about your firings? SM: I built the oldest known type of anagama kiln: the design is around 1,000 years old, dating from the Japanese Heian period (794 to 1185). It’s about one metre square inside. Firing
34 July/August 2020